One of the major highlights of our recent DC trip was the National Zoo. Visiting the zoo is actually a free experience, though it ended up being one of our most expensive trips. It’s definitely worth the money, but don’t think you’re going to get by without spending any money. Parking is $22 if you drive, maps are $3, and lunch was astronomical. We wouldn’t have had to buy lunch, but because the zoo is so big, we spent 5 hours there, which meant we definitely hit meal time.
We arrived at 9:30am, knowing the zoo opened at 10:00am, thinking we’d hit the visitor’s center first. What we weren’t clear on though, is that you can walk in and see animals well before 10:00. It’s the buildings that don’t open until 10:00am, like the reptile house and small mammal exhibit. We were able to see zebras, cheetahs, and a whole plethora of weird animals I can’t remember the name of before the zoo actually opened.
This kids were VERY excited to see the pandas, so that was one of our first stops. It was cool to see pandas, but the area was super crowded and they were all indoors eating their breakfast (or lunch?), so they weren’t overly exciting, and they were sitting pretty far away. The close quarters did not stop me from getting a #HandstandsAcrossAmerica picture of R in front of a panda though!
The kids took a ton of pictures, literally stopping at every animal to take several photos. At the beginning of the day, even after 10:00am, it seemed like there were several empty habitats. It’d probably be smart to loop back around at the end of the day, but we were exhausted by then. Don’t take this the wrong way, because I know it’s better for the animals to have larger habitats, but seriously everything is so. Spread. Out. If you are questioning whether or not to bring a wagon or a stroller, especially if you drove your own vehicle, do it. I’m pretty sure if I’d had the option I would have been the one riding!
There are maps posted all over, but we spent the $3. You wouldn’t have to, but it’s a fun little souvenir and it was helpful to have the list of special activities throughout the day. Plus, it’s a great cause, all the money goes back to the zoo.
We ended up eating lunch at the zoo café, which was, as you would expect, average food, and sky high prices (I think the kids' meals were around $10). One thing you should note though, is that while it looks like a place you should stand in line and wait your turn, they actually want you to do it cafeteria style, and just walk up to whichever counter as food that interests you. That took us (and everyone else) a little while to figure out. When we left we realized there were a few restaurants right across the street. We could have walked out, left the car parked, and eaten better food, but it wouldn't have been much cheaper. Remember, you’re in DC. Pretty much all the food is expensive.
Some of our favorite exhibits included:
- The monkeys and gorillas – you had a chance to get pretty close to them when you were inside the building, and they have some sort of orangutan jungle gym that lets them climb out and up above the zoo. They also do educational talks with the gorillas, which was really cool to hear.
- R’s favorites were the pandas and the tigers. A liked the tigers. My issue with both the lions and tigers was that they were super far away, it was hard to get a good look.
- J enjoyed the elephant habitat, even though we weren’t allowed to go inside that day since there was a sick elephant. You get to look down on them from above, but can also see them around the sides.
- The small mammals building was kind of fun, but while the kids and J were excited about the reptile house, I mostly thought it smelled ridiculously bad.